de Artes, Religiões e Ciências

nova série | número 42-43 | dezº 2013-janº 2014




Writers’ choice of names as indicators of cultural identity: pseudonyms and artistic names in the Lusophone Literature


Luísa Marinho Antunes (Portugal). University of Madeira/ CLEPUL-UMa



ISSN 2182-147X  
Dir. Maria Estela Guedes  
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Revista InComunidade (Porto)  
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             Gustavo Flavio is your real name?


            We, writers like to use pseudonyms. Stendhal's name was Marie-Henri Beyle; Mark Twain's real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Molière was the criptonym of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. George Eliot wasn't George nor Eliot or even a man, she was a woman named Mary Ann Evans. Do you know what Voltaire's name was? François-Marie Arouet. William Sydney Porter hid himself under the false name of O. Henry. "(For reasons similar to mine, but did not say that to the cop.)" That is a literary secret, ha, ha![1]  


            The writer/narrator of Bufo & Spalanzani (1985), by Brazilian writer Rubem Fonseca (n. 1925), answers this way to detective Guedes when asked about the name with which he signs his books. Later, the reader will become aware of the reason for the choice of Gustavo Flavio: Ivan Canabrava, the character's real name, "ex-school teacher hidden in a pseudonym, or, better, a refugee in a pseudonym" chose it inspired by Gustave Flaubert, because at the moment of the adoption he did not care about women, preferring, like Flaubert, "to channel all the energy to literary creation"[2]. But today, he admits, few years later and several books written, he endorses the concept of "many lovers, many works" dear to Georges Simenon and Guy de Maupassant. That is why he would choose Gustavo Simeon or Frederico Guilherme (Frederick William), standing for Friedrich Nietzsche, marked by the conflict "of construction and destruction, of life and death, love and hate"[3].  

            Ivan disguises his own identity to protect himself from being found out by the police, but he chooses a pseudonym which functions as a strong marker of his inner self, of his thought and personal identity and of his point of view on literary creation: like Gustave Flaubert, at the moment when he had to choose a pseudonym, he thought that as a writer he should follow the words: “reserve ton priapisme pour le style, fous ton encrier, calme toi sur la viande... une once de sperme perdue fatigue plus que trois litres de sang”[4]. However, if the pseudonym had to be consistent and true to his beliefs concerning the writing process and creation, nowadays he would have to choose another one, one that would represent his current conception of poetics - a combination between Georges Simenon’s and Guy de Maupassant’s ideas, or the translation of Nietzche's first names. The translations into Portuguese amuse the reader, because they sound ridiculous: however, they only amuse the one who knows the secret behind the name, since he is the one with the knowledge to relate the pseudonym to the name of the inspiring author. 

            Pseudes (false) and onoma (name) is used by Ivan to hide his true identity but at the same time to identify his personality. As Rubens Limongi França wrote, a pseudonym is a name, different from the birth name, “used by someone [...] at a certain course of action, with the purpose of projecting a specific trait of his or her own personality”[5]. Using a pseudonym is not the same as anonymity, since it is a name with a substance, not a nominis umbra (a name without a substance), as Catherine A. Judd wrote in “Male Pseudonyms and Female Authority in Victorian England”[6]. It simultaneously conveys and unveils something, because it entails one’s renaming. This process can be compared to the choice of artistic names: the writer chooses his/her second name or his/her mother's family name, a part of his/her birth name, to present him/herself to the public. On the basis of his/her choice, the reader can perceive the same purpose of disentangling which is behind a pseudonym, even if the veiling is less evident. 

            Despite the fact that, as the authors of A Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publications in the English Language write, the reasons “which lead writers to adopt a pseudonym or similar disguise of identity are surely as various as human nature itself, and may well defy classification”[7], the use of a nom de plume is surely part of the creation of authorial identity, a fictitious name not necessarily corresponding to an author’s fictional life of. Soren Kierkegaard writes in his journals that when an author desires to point out particular factors and dialectical details, he/she uses poetic writers (pseudonyms), “poetized thinkers”[8], as he calls them. This author may request anyone who wants to make any comment on the matter to distinguish between his/her pseudonym and himself, but, of course, by jumbling these together, “me and the pseudonyms, [...] he believes that the pseudonym is one-sided and, thus, it is I myself who said it.” That's why Kierkegaard writes an “Urgent Request by S.K.” pleading to distinguish his pseudonymous work from the author’s, since “It is the fruit of long reflection, the why and how of my use of pseudonyms; I easily could write whole books about it.”[9] We may wonder if his concern, and piece of thought, the reasoning why and how not to betray the author’s position, thereby carrying a symbolic significance, personifies and embodies some sort of ideology and its postulates.           

            In the case of the Lusophone Literature, more specifically the Literature of the Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa, that is from Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé and Principe, along with the Brazilian Literature, the analysis of the choice of pseudonyms may clarify the historical shift experienced by the African countries in the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century as well as nowadays Brazil (Table 1), still involved in what can be defines as a quest for the formula or formulae which define a unique national identity formed by a multicultural and multiracial society. 

            Considering that a pseudonym is a means of communicating with the reader, an indication of one's ideology and sense of identity belonging, it is worth considering the predominant occurrence in African writers, with Portuguese birth names and writing in Portuguese, of pseudonyms created with the use of African languages, whether they are translations of the original name (in the case of the Angolan writer Pepetela (1941), which corresponds to his family name “Pestana” in Umbundu and means “Eyelash”) or completely new names as Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa (1957), from Mozambique, (pseudonym of Francisco Esaú Cossa, with its origins in a Tsonga saying, which the author remembers from an infant ritual, meaning “Finish with the Cossas, they are many.“) or Tchikakata Mbalundu (i.e., Cikakata Mbalundu) (1955), from Angola, whose name is Aníbal João Ribeiro Simões, who chooses Umbundu to declare his belonging to one of the subgroups of the ethnic group bantu, the Mbalundus ("Bailundos"). 

            Agostinho André Mendes de Carvalho (1924), from Angola, whose pseudonym is Uanhenga Xitu, in Quimbundo, another Bantu language, wrote: “Agostinho Mendes de Carvalho - Uanhenga Xitu… it's my name, it's not a pseudonym. Everybody that saw me get born and grow there is Calomboloca knows that I'm called UANHENGA. There are some people that stubbornly say it's a nickname! My xará Kinguxi, the great KINGUXI, gave me this name. One day I wrote an article to be published and I signed. Uanhenga Xitu… Rejected. I had to sign: Agostinho A. Mendes de Carvalho. It's over, or the work is published under Uanhenga Xitu… or we'll wait for the day when there will be someone who accepts the name by which I'm known there in my sanzala, where I was born in 1924. The first literary work that I wrote and came out to the public as I wished was in Cape Verde - Chão Bom - Tarrafal[10]: a line with the word “NO” engraved in the trunk of a red acacia.”[11] 

            Uanhenga Xitu, with his declaration, gives voice to a generation of writers who lived the independence wars, many of them descendants of Portuguese families and with Portuguese family names, who used their literary names to vindicate an ideology and a political position. The Angolan writer makes his creativity depend on the use of his “true” name, the one given to him by Africa, a symbol and a statement of the freedom that will come out after the independence.  

            Some of these authors wrote under their “war names”, like Pepetela, who has kept his name up to now, or Francisco Fernando da Costa Andrade (1936), whose war name was Ndunduma wé Lépi. Some opted for a pseudonym which included a geographical reference, such as the same Francisco Fernando da Costa Andrade (Angolano de Andrade; Nando Angolano) or José Vieira Mateus da Graça (1935) who signs José Luandino Vieira (Luanda, capital of Angola). Pseudonyms create a clear division between colonial times and post-colonial times, emphasizing the distinction between Portuguese writers and African Portuguese-speaking writers, between Portugal and their own countries, creating an imagined community linked by a sense of belonging. In this case, the use of pseudonyms does not relate to reasons of secrecy, on the contrary, they are public declarations of their national identities, charged with a definitely meaningful role. As Luisa Calé wrote, “pseudonimity, however, suspending the authors’ empirical identity does not mean withholding, let alone denying their personal identity. On the contrary, pseudonimity supplements it with another 'shorthand description', another form of reference. [...] Pseudonyms project the geographical sense of neighbourhood onto an ideal sense of community.”[12] In the case of the writers mentioned so far, if there is a biographical anchoring, there is also a national identity anchorage: the importance of the space and time occupied by the authors is conferred by the use of the African language. 

            The poet from Mozambique, Marcelino dos Santos (1925) (also known as Kalungano and Lilinho Micaia during the independence war) wrote: “The poets were the first great revolutionary leaders in Africa. In the first place, we wrote poems with words of liberation, such as “We need to plant” (from 1953, “We need to plant/in the paths of freedom/ the new tree/ of the National Independence”), then many of us took part in the armed war.”[13] The Portuguese language was kept in the liberated colonies as a means of communication among people (in Mozambique, for instance, there are more than forty different languages) and of aesthetic expression. As the poet stated the choice of the Portuguese code comprised a strategy of unity, a war trophy, as the Angolan writer José Luandino Vieira puts it, since it not only allowed for the expression of the ideas of freedom and independence but also prevented the desegregation of the nations, each with a plurality of languages otherwise likely to jeopardise a common understanding among people and, thereby, their meaningful sharing of common goals. 

            In 1972, Jorge de Sena, writing about the poetic work by Angolan José Craveirinha (1922-2003) accounts for the difficulty of making "African" poetry in African nations still under Portuguese ruling: "It's easier to be African there, where the European culture, retiring with those who embodied it only left behind a poison of Western bourgeois nationalism which settled itself in power", "to look africaníssimo/ real African, where just a few write, using the European model, in French or English, about their own for Africanness to the Europe of the universe."[14] But when it comes to the Africanness of the countries "less European and more 'metropolitan'", it was expected that poetry would reveal the polarization, the occurring division that resulted from this feeling of double apartness.  

            When, in 1979, Luís Bernardo Honwana (1942) was asked in a conference at the University of Minnesota about the choice of maintaining the coloniser's language after the independence from Portugal, he replied that the Portuguese language belonged to the people of his own country, was also theirs, as well, in a natural way[15]. In fact, the Portuguese language had been adapting itself for centuries to a variety of human and geographical spaces in Africa, including its various languages, and registers. It afforded new constellations in literary tests, underpinned by neologisms, words from different local languages and dialectal features, intertwined in standard European Portuguese. The true liberation of these countries was the reinvention of the coloniser's language as their own, entailing, however, not a sterile hybridism, but a real creative and endless resourceful endeavour, always capable of adaptation and renewal. 

            Distant and free from a commitment to anti-colonial struggles, from the topics of blackness that characterises certain African literatures in other languages or from the rhetorical construction of the new nations, despite concerns about recent past struggles and present hardships, literatures find in the language their major way of affirmation, because the language conveys the future. The Portuguese freed itself from is formality and became a re-invented language, allowing writers to have an uninhibited relationship with the language of creation. 

            What might seem paradoxical at a first glance, that is, pseudonyms in both African and Portuguese languages as a tool for the artistic expression, stands for a coherent stance not only with the historical moment, the war of independence but also with the contemporary linguistic innovation paradigm having featured the body of literature stemming from African-speaking countries until modern times. 

            Some of the authors, after the independence, started writing with their own names, but many kept their pseudonyms, even if the topics having inspired many of the new generations of authors have given in to the criticism of the liberation movements (at the core of long-lasting and enduring civil wars) and of the political system likely not to be fulfilling people's inner requests. Ondjaki (1977), the author of The Whistler, born after the independence, chose a pseudonym in Umbundu, meaning “the one who faces challenges”: it is no longer a statement of independence or against the Portuguese coloniser, but a statement of Africanness, i.e., a strong mark of belonging. 

            The consistency of African authors' multifaceted selection of pseudonyms may help us reflect upon and establish some sort of relation with a recent direction towards a new trend of Brazilian writers, self-entitled as Afro-Brazilian authors or Black Literature authors, who have adopted pseudonyms in African languages. Fábio Monteiro Pereira (1985) inspired himself in the Yorubá language to create Akins Kintê, “young warrior”; José Carlos de Andrade is Jamu Minka;  Aparecido Tadeu dos Santos (1956) is Oubi Inaê Kibuk; Carlos Eduardo Ribeiro de Jesus (1953) is Edu Omo Oguian. 

            Since the 20s that African ascendency and Black affirmation in Brazil has been defended by a group of intellectuals who saw in the image of the Black Mother, a suffering and courageous mother, the slave having fed her own children and the white lords' offsprings, the symbol of Brazil. Most of them wrote for newspapers with pseudonyms hiding their true identities, and used names like Raul, Helios or Ivan. These did not present any clue to the author's empirical name. Helios, who was in fact Paulo Menotti del Picchia (1892-1988), leading modernist poet, saw in the Black Mother the tribute not to the black race, but to the African race, part of the Brazilian people. José Correia Leite (1900-1989), who signed some of his texts as Raul, in the periodical Clarim, in 1930, defended that the Black Mother was the carnal mother of all the mothers of the Brazilians[16], giving emphasis to the idea of a multiracial nationality, “mestiça”. Brazil would be a communion of races, whites and blacks mixed in a unique race. 

          However, more recently, the formation of Quilombohoje, dedicated to the Contemporaneous Afro Literature, which unites a group of Brazilian with African ascendency (or better saying, Black, since African blood can be found in a great part of the population), demonstrates the will to defend Africanness and Blackness against a society ruled by Whiteness and racial exclusion. Along with the publication of the Black Journals (Cadernos Negros) (in which Black writers can find their expression) this has called the attention to a reality hidden in the White canon. As Jamu Minka wrote in the poem “Efeitos Colaterais”: “In the misleading propaganda/ the racial paradise/ hypocrisy hurts our future/ into a bottomless pit”. 

          Before concluding, we wish to state that the current analysis does not take into account whether AfroBrazilian Literature or Black Literature is a valid concept in Brazil or if it is in construction, as many critics believe, or even if it does not exist at all, since it does not make sense to defend a Black Literature in a country constituted of a melting pot of races and a plurality of cultures: to accept Black Literature would mean to defend the existence of an Arab Literature in Brazil, an Italian Literature there, among others. The important issue is the statement that is made by these writers and the link established by their choice of pseudonyms and the will to find their lost roots in Africa, the roots which they believe to be long denied to Black people in Brazil, though related to biased assumptions on Black people's culture being inferior and subordinate, vindicated, for instance, by Jamu Minka: 

            I found a flag
            Rescued identity
            Being black is important
            It's identifying myself with my own roots.

            "Being black" is a constant collocation in authors’ works issued in Black Journals who with their use of pseudonyms give testimony to the process of acceptance of their specificity as black and the awareness that difference does not imply inferiority; it should rather be looked at with pride. Literature in Brazil has to be open to “African attitudes”, accepting its Black part, as Jamu Minka advocates:

            Brazil and its original sin: the dictatorship of whiteness and the vast repertoire of disguises. For anyone who is visibly African, there was only this gift of an exposed fracture. Our response: awareness and advocacy. We dare to reinvent spaces of communication and we redefine ourselves in texts, themes, readings, characters and stories of transformation. [18] 

            Although there is a will to “re-join” Africa in a way to regain one’s self identity, the knowledge of Brazil about Africa is questionable, since in most of the cases poets and writers of the Black attitude only have a partial or symbolical/mythological knowledge of the African countries and culture, specially of the nowadays Africa. José Eduardo Agualusa (1960-), an Angolan writer, once said that the African countries and Brazil seem like two brothers, one very poor and the other powerful and rich[19]. The very poor knows everything about the rich brother and looks at him with admiration and respect, but the rich brother knows nothing about the poor brother. That is why it is also interesting to reflect upon the choice of pseudonyms by authors such as Atiely Santos (1975-), who is known as a singer as Tiely Queen, one of the collaborators of Cadernos Negros. Being a writer of rap songs, she makes an option for a pseudonym that reminds the reader of the names of American rappers, which can also show the influence of the Black American culture in Brazil.  

            To conclude, this analysis has to raise a challenging question: while the choice of African languages based pseudonyms by the Lusophone writers and poets of Africa is a strong marker of an historical shift and creates a distinct division between colonial and post-colonial times or, nowadays, emphasizes emphatically the national identity, does the same choice of Afro-brazilian writers or Black Literature writers in Brazil have the same meaning? These ones seem to be trying to recreate their own identity through an idealized link to Mother Africa, since they are far from bearing the knowledge of contemporary Africa (today, for example, Portugal is acting as a real channel of culture awareness between the two continents by a policy of promotion of the Lusophone various cultures, arts and literatures; this along with African Lusophone writers who have been divulging their own culture in Brazil). Apart from their own clear or “hidden” objectives, they are testifying to a mixed Afro-Brazilian culture which was created by the binomial of tradition and innovation, having given Brazil one of its many faces.

          According to the anthropologist Darién J. Davis[20], Afro-brazilians are far from being an homogeneous group. Although, their artistic expression and their choice of pseudonyms, just like in the African Lusophone countries, serves as a statement concerning the awareness of problems of racism in Brazil, far from being a “melting pot” paradise. The pseudonym, the name with a substance that reveals more than hides, carries in the cases studied a strong sense of awareness and identity affirmation, stating the feeling of belonging to a chosen community and the will to stand for it.


[1] Bufo & Spalanzani, Rio de Janeiro, Nova Fronteira, (1985) 2011, p. 52. Translation by the author of this essay.

[2] Idem, p. 337.

[3] Idem, p. 338.

[4] Idem, p. 10.

[5] Do nome civil das pessoas naturais, São Paulo, Editora Revista dos Tribunais, 1975, p. 510. Transl. by the author of this essay.

[6] “Male Pseudonyms and Female Authority in Victorian England” in Literature in the marketplace: nineteenth-century British publishing and reading practices, ed. John O. Jordan, Robert L. Patten, Cambridge-New York, Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 250. (pp. 250-268)

[7] A Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous Publications in the English Language, (1475-1640), Vol. 1, Halkett and Laing, ed. J. Horden, Harlow and London: Longman Group Limited, 1980.

[8] Søren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers: Autobiographical, 1848-1855, ed. Howard Vincent Hong, Edna Hatlestad Hong, Indiana University Press,1978, p. 270.

[9] Idem, p. 271.

[10] Tarrafal was the place where the political prisoners were sent to by the Portuguese fascism regime followers.

[11] Author’s presentation page in Livros Cotovia Editor:

[12]Periodical Personae: Pseudonyms, Authorship and the Imagined Community of Joseph Priestley’s Theological Repositoryin 19 – Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, n.º 3, Literature and the Press: 1800/1900, Birkbeck, University of London, 2006, p. 9.

[13] Apud “Escritores anseiam por difundir a cultura de seus países e desfazer o estereótipo de um "continente exótico", Luciana Lana, in Revista Literatura, Editora Escala, Rio de Janeiro, p. 1. 

[14] Poesia e Cultura, Porto, Edições Caixotim, 2005, pp. 166-167.

[15] Apud Luciana Lana, op.cit., p.1.

[16] “O dia da mãe preta” in O Clarim, 28 Setembro 1930, p. 1.

[17] Cadernos Negros, 1, p. 35.

[18] Cadernos Negros, p. 29.

[19] Apud Luciana Lana, op.cit., p. 1.

[20] Afro-Brazilian: Time for Recognition, London, Minority Rights Group International Report, 2000.



© Maria Estela Guedes